1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Schwyz (canton)

SCHWYZ (modern spelling Schwiz), one of the forest cantons of central Switzerland. Its total area is 350.5 sq. m., of which 293.6 sq. m. are reckoned as “productive” (forests covering 64.9 sq. m. and vineyards .17 sq. m.), while of the rest 211/4 sq. m. are occupied by lakes (nearly 9 sq. m. of that of Zürich, 83/4 sq. m. of that of Lucerne, 33/4 sq. m. of that of Zug, and the whole of the lake of Lowerz), and .5 sq. m. is covered by glaciers. Its loftiest point is the Böser Faulen (9200 ft.), while the two highest summits of the Rigi (the Kulm, 5906 ft., and the Scheidegg, 5463 ft.) rise within its borders. The canton extends from the upper end of the lake of Zürich on the north to the middle reach of the lake of Lucerne on the south; on the west it touches at Küssnacht, the northern arm of the same lake, and in the same direction the lake of Zug at Arth, mountain ridges dividing it from Glarus on the east and from Uri on the south. It is made up of two main valleys, those of the Muota, flowing through the older portion of the canton to the lake of Lucerne, and of the Sihl that passes near Einsiedeln on its way to Zürich. Less important are the Aa, that waters the Wäggi glen before joining the lake of Zürich, and the Biber, which receives the Alpbach that flows past Einsiedehi. It is thus a hilly rather than a mountainous region, and is all but wholly devoted to pastoral pursuits. It has not many railways, the principal being that portion of the main St Gotthard line between Kussnacht and Sisikon (about 20 m.), while from Arth-Goldau a line runs past Biberbrucke (where falls in the branch from Einsiedeln, 3 m.) towards Wädenswil. From Arth-Goldau a mountain line runs up to the Rigi Kulm, with a branch to the Rigi Scheidegg, while from Arth-Goldau the line towards Zug runs for 51/2 m. within the canton. There is also a mountain line from Brunnen to Axenstein. In 1900 the population was 55,385, of whom 53,834 were German-speaking, 1108 Italian-speaking, and 296 French-speaking, while 53,537 were Romanists, 1836 Protestants and 9 Jews. The most populous town is Einsiedeln, with its famous Benedictine monastery, but Schwyz (the port of which is Brunnen) is the political capital.

There is a certain amount of industrial activity in the canton, particularly in the portion bordering on the lake of Zurich, while silk-weaving at home is widespread. There are many fruit trees, particularly cherry trees. But on the whole the region is essentially a pastoral one, and the local brown race of cattle is much esteemed and largely exported, mainly to north Italy. There are 417 mountain pastures or “alps” in the canton, capable of supporting 17,492 cows, and of an estimated capital value of 1,128,000 frs. Till 1814 the canton was included in the diocese of Constance, but it is now nominally part of that of Coire. There are six administrative districts in the canton, which comprise thirty communes. The cantonal constitution dates mainly from 1876, but was revised in 1898. The legislature (Kantonsrat) is composed of members elected in the proportion of one for every six hundred (or fraction over two hundred) inhabitants and holds office for four years—the elections in twelve (the larger) of the thirty electoral circles take place according to the principles of proportional representation. The executive (Regierungsrat) of seven members is elected by a popular vote, and holds office for four years. The two members of the federal Ständerat and the three of the federal Nationalrat are also chosen by a popular vote. The “obligatory referendum” prevails in the case of all laws approved by the legislature and important financial measures, while two thousand citizens may claim a popular vote as to any decrees or resolutions of the legislature, and have also the right of “initiative” as to the revision of the cantonal constitution or as to legislative projects.

The valley of Schwyz is first mentioned in 972 under the form of “Suittes.” Later, a community of freemen is found settled at the foot of the Mythen, possessing common lands, and subject only to the count of the Zürichgau, as representing the German king. Its early history consists mainly of disputes with the great monastery of Einsiedeln about rights of pasture. In 1240 the community obtained from the Emperor Frederick II. the privilege of being subject immediately to the empire. Its territory then included only the district round the village of Schwyz and the valley of the Muota, But in 1269 it bought from Count Eberhard of Habsburg-Laufenburg (who in 1273 sold all his other rights to the head of the elder line of the Habsburgs), Steinen and Rothenthurm. Schwyz took the lead in making the famous everlasting league of the first of August 1291, with the neighbouring districts of Uri and of Unterwalden, its position and political independence specially fitting it for this prominence. An attack by Schwyz on Einsiedeln was the excuse for the Austrian invasion that was gloriously beaten back in the battle of Morgarten (November 15th, 1315). In the history of the league Schwyz was always to the front, so that its name in a dialectal form (Schweiz) was from the early 14th century onwards applied by foreigners to the league as a whole, though it formed part of its formal style only from 1803 onwards. Between 1319 and 1354 Schwyz secured possession of Arth. But it was only after the victory of Sempach (1386) that it greatly extended its borders. An “alliance” with Einsiedeln in 1397 ended in 1434 with the assumption of the position of “protector” of that great house, between 1386 and 1436 the whole of the “March” (the region near the upper lake of Zürich) was acquired, in 1402 Küssnacht was bought, and in 1440 the “Höfe,” the parishes of Wollerau, Feusisberg and Freienbach, situated on the main lake of Zürich. All these districts were governed by Schwyz as “subject lands,” the supreme power resting with the Landsgemeinde (or assembly of all male citizens of full age), which is first distinctly mentioned in 1294, though it seems to have already existed in 1281, when mention is also made of a common seal. Schwyz joined the other forest cantons in opposing the Reformation and took part in the battle of Kappel (1531), in which Zwingli fell. In 1586 it became a member of the Golden or Borromean League, formed to continue the work of St Charles Borromeo in carrying out the counter reformation in Switzerland. In 1798 Schwyz, including Gersau (free from 1390), formed part of the République Telliane (or Tellgau) set up by the French, which a week later gave way to the Helvetic republic. The men of Schwyz, under Aloys Reding, offered a valiant resistance to the French, but they were forced to yield. Their land formed part of the vast canton of the Waldstätten, though the March and the Höfe were lost to that of the Linth. In 1799 a French occupation was successfully resisted, while later in the same year part of the canton was the scene of the disastrous retreat from Altdorf to Glarus over the Kinzigkulm and Pragel passes by the Russians under Suvarov in face of the French army. In 1803 the separate canton of Schwyz was again set up, the March and the Höfe being recovered, while Gersau now became part of it. In 1806 the great landslip from the Rossberg buried Goldau, causing great loss of life and of property. Later, Schwyz resisted steadily all proposals for the revision of the pact of 1815, joined in 1832 the league of Sarnen, and in 1845 the Sonderbund, which was put down by a short war in 1847. In 1832 the outer districts (Einsiedeln, the March, Küssnacht and Pfäffikon) formed themselves into a separate canton, an act which brought about a federal occupation of the old canton in 1833, this ending in the dissolution of the new canton, the constituent parts of which were put on an equal political footing with the rest. In 1838 a strife broke out in the older portion of the canton between the richer peasant proprietors (nicknamed the “Horns,” as they owned so many cows) and the poorer men (dubbed the “ Hoofs," as they possessed only goats and sheep) as to the use of the common pastures, which the “Horn” party utilized far more than the others. The “Horn” party finally carried the day at the Landsgemeinde held at Rothenthurm. The cantonal constitution of 1848 put an end to the ancient Landsgemeinde; it was revised in 1876 (when membership of one of the 29 communes became the political qualification), and in 1898.

Authorities.—J. J. Blumer, Staats- und Rechtsgeschichte d. schweiz. Demokratien (3 vols., St Gall, 1850–1859); J. C. Benziger, Die Ratspratakolle des Kant. Schwyz, 1548–1798 (Schwyz, 1906); T. Fassbind, Geschichte d. Kant. Schwyz (5 vols., Schwyz, 1832–1838); Geschichtsfreund, from 1843; M. Kothing, Das Landbuch von Schwyz (Zürich and Frauenfeld, 1850); A. Lütolf, Sagen, Bruauche, Legenden aus den fünf Orte (Lucerne, 1852); G. Meyer von Knonau, Der Kanton Schwyz (St Gall, 1835); Mitteil. d. hist. Vereins d. Kant. Schwyz (from 1882); W. Oechsli, Die Anfänge d. schweiz. Eidgenossenschaft (Zürich, 1891); R. von Reding-Biberegg, Der Zug Suworoffs durch die Schweiz in 1799 (Stans, 1895); H. Ryffel, Die Schweiz. Landsgemeinden (Zürich, 1903); J. Sowerby, The Forest Cantons of Switzerland (London, 1892); D. Steinauer, Geschichte d. Freistaates Schwyz (1798–1861) (2 vols., Einsiedeln, 1861); A. Strüby and H. Schneebeli, Die Alpwirtschaft im Kant. Schwyz (Soleure, 1899); W. H. Vormann, Aus den Fremdenbüchern von Rigi-Kulm (Bern, 1883); K. Zay, Goldau und seine Gegend (Zürich, 1807).  (W. A. B. C.)